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Fri May 27, 2011
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Federal Money Could Be Headed to Fort Drum and Griffiss Air Force Base Despite Ban on Earmarks

Washington, D.C. –
This year's National Defense Authorization Act is worth almost $700 billion. It funds the U.S. military and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. North country Democrat Bill Owens sits on the House Armed Services Committee, and helped shape how some of that money will be spent by offering four amendments.

"We have some money related to medical facilities in military operations, and we've also got couple more equipment bills in there that would focus on upgrading various pieces of equipment for military members," said Owens.

The equipment measures he's talking about are for Army weapon modifications and Air Force cyberworkforce development. With a ban on earmarks, the money can't be allocated directly to military posts, like Fort Drum or Griffis Air Force Base. One way to get around that is by creating general programs, that military leaders can then direct money to various reaches of the military. Owens says those programs are right for upstate's military bases, which could get some of that money.
"Obviously we're hopeful that it will. But that will ultimately be a decision made by the Army or the Air Force - depending on where the funding is going," said Owens.

But those programs cost millions of dollars. Lawmakers are fighting over how to best reduce the deficit and the debt overall. Owens says he supports careful cuts to military spending. He says it's not contradictory to support spending provisions like these, while overall promoting cuts to the defense budget.

"I think when you look at any of these programs, you're always looking at the micro level and the macro level. If in fact your micro projects where accepted, you still may be in consistent in saying but at the macro level, we need to trim 1 or 2 percent off the top. Which would mean those programs would be cut 1 or 2 percent, but that's a big difference from eliminating the program or not funding it," said Owens.

Mattie Corrao with Americans for Tax Reform -- a group that aims to keep taxes low -- says her organization would like to see projects in the defense budget examined more closely to eliminate waste fraud and abuse.

"You see a lot of opportunities for pork projects and different special interests kind of work their way into this bill because who has time to weed through a 700 billion dollar bill to find all these special interests," said Corrao.

Corrao says her group disapproves of the way lawmakers getting around the earmark ban.

"Things need to work a little differently for members of Congress who feel like they still have special projects that they want to get funded. We see a lot of creative language being used, a lot of place holders being used, where members of congress are writing language doesn't even necessarily fund an account, but allows taxpayer dollars to be allocated," she said.

Owens says you can still have budgetary items that serve a purpose, and at the same time keep spending down. He uses the old household budget analogy.

"You say my budget for the month is X' and I'm going to spend it in different ways. If I decide to cut down, I may cut across the board - I may go out to dinner less, I may do less dry cleaning, I may a little less expensive food -- and if I do that, all those budgetary items are going to be reduced," Owens said.

The House is expected to vote on the final defense spending plan within the next week.